2023 High School Football Preview: Southside seeks to reverse late-season swoons

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Messenger file photo by Chris McCarthy 

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

Miles Holcomb fully expects his third Southside football team to build on its recent success.
The 2022 squad’s run to the postseason marked the first time in the program’s 94-year history that the Panthers qualified for the playoffs for three consecutive seasons.
“This year is probably one of the most talented groups I’ve ever had as a head coach,” he said. “Our senior class has always been winners, and then we feel like we have a pretty special junior class to follow it up.”
What Holcomb would like to change is the manner in which his teams enter the postseason. The 2022 squad opened with five straight region wins before losing their final four, including a 14-point loss to longtime rival Etowah. That dropped the Panthers down to the fourth and final seed.
In 2021, Southside lost its final four games after a 5-2 start.
“I think we’ve been outscored something like 124-25 in the last two years in the playoffs, which is not great,” he said. “Either we haven’t prepared them well enough, or we’ve done so much so early that we’re are just exhausted by the end [of the season], and I’ll take the blame for that. But I feel like the player leadership that we have this year will allow us to be a little bit better later on in the season.”
The linchpin of the offense is senior and four-year starter Gauge NeSmith, whose 2022 numbers included 2,096 passing yards and 21 touchdowns along with 628 yards and nine TDs via the rush. NeSmith’s postseason laurels included All-Etowah County Schools Player of the Year, All-Messenger and All-Region 6 first team and honorable mention Class 5A All-State.
“I think Gauge will probably be the first one to tell you there have been some growing pains to get to this point, but it’s pretty fun now that we’re here,” said Holcomb.
NeSmith has three of the team’s top receivers back in senior Scotty Motes (32 catches in 2022), junior Jordan Bryan (29) and senior Cayden McMichael (21). Joining NeSmith in the backfield is senior All-Messenger halfback Mason Teague, who last season ran for 1,443 yards and 13 touchdowns.
All-Region and All-County performers Jake Stewart and Jamin Brown return to the offensive line.
The defense features a wealth of talent and experience, the back seven in particular. Returning at middle linebacker is senior All-County and All-Area pick Tytan Rich, who was the team’s leading tackler with 143 stops (12 for a loss) along with three sacks and three fumble recoveries; junior Braydon Bowers (102 tackles, 10 QB pressures); All-Region junior Brody McCutcheon (93 tackles, four fumble recoveries); and junior Blake Phillips (89 tackles, six passes batted down). Roaming the secondary will be All-Region and All-County junior Koal Garrett (59 tackles, four interceptions), junior Silas Osborne (38 tackles) and senior Brody Burnett (29 tackles).
Returning up front are junior Evan McDonald (49 tackles, seven QB pressures) and sophomore Cameron Flowers.
Southside’s Class 5A Region 6 competition remains Lincoln, St. Clair County, Leeds, Alexandria, Moody and Springville.
“If you want to be good and if you want to get ready for the playoffs, you have to play quality football teams,” said Holcomb. “Our region is tough, there is no doubt about it. Right now, we’re just trying to get better at what we do. This group has enough leadership and talent and character that by the time we get to each game, we’ll control the things that we’re able to control.
“I want to give our kids the maximum amount of opportunities we can to be successful because that’s what they deserve. It’s a great group that’s fun to coach and fun to be around every day. We have guys who have been in the system long enough to where everyone has held someone else accountable, and hopefully that will help us with our October [and] November record.”
Holcomb appreciated the fact the school represents two incorporated communities, noting that the program recently introduced a logo signifying a bridge spanning the Coosa River between Southside and Rainbow City.
“I really didn’t realize how big of a deal it was,” he said. “For the most part, I think we try to incorporate both towns, because we get a ton of kids from both communities. It’s a unique deal that creates its own challenges, but it also makes it a pretty special place, too.”
Lindsey Frazier contributed to this article.

 

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